Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XX

An Old Soldier

Now Mr. Jellicorse had been taking a careful view of everything. He wished to be certain of placing himself both on the righteous side and the right one; and in such a case this was not to be done without much circumspection. He felt himself bound to his present clients, and could not even dream of deserting them; but still there are many things that may be done to conciliate the adversary of one’s friend, without being false to the friend himself. And some of these already were occurring to the lawyer.

It was true that no adversary had as yet appeared, nor even shown token of existence; but some little sign of complication had arisen, and one serious fact was come to light. The solicitors of Sir Ulphus de Roos (the grandson of Sir Fursan, whose daughter had married Richard Yordas) had pretty strong evidence, in some old letters, that a deed of appointment had been made by the said Richard, and Eleanor his wife, under the powers of their settlement. Luckily they had not been employed in the matter, and possessed not so much as a draft or a letter of instructions; and now it was no concern of theirs to make, or meddle, or even move. Neither did they know that any question could arise about it; for they were a highly antiquated firm, of most rigid respectability, being legal advisers to the Chapter of York, and clerks of the Prerogative Court, and able to charge twice as much as almost any other firm, and nearly three times as much as poor Jellicorse.

Mr. Jellicorse had been most skillful and wary in sounding these deep and silent people; for he wanted to find out how much they knew, without letting them suspect that there was anything to know. And he proved an old woman’s will gratis, or at least put it down to those who could afford it — because nobody meant to have it proved — simply for the sake of getting golden contact with Messrs. Akeborum, Micklegate, and Brigant. Right craftily then did he fetch a young member of the firm, who delighted in angling, to take his holiday at Middleton, and fish the goodly Tees; and by gentle and casual discourse of gossip, in hours of hospitality, out of him he hooked and landed all that his firm knew of the Yordas race. Young Brigant thought it natural enough that his host, as the lawyer of that family, and their trusted adviser for five-and-twenty years, should like to talk over things of an elder date, which now could be little more than trifles of genealogical history. He got some fine fishing and good dinners, and found himself pleased with the river and the town, and his very kind host and hostess; and it came into his head that if Miss Emily grew up as pretty and lively as she promised to be, he might do worse than marry her, and open a connection with such a fishing station. At any rate he left her as a “chose in action,” which might be reduced into possession some fine day.

Such was the state of affairs when Jordas, after a long and muddy ride, sent word that he would like to see the master, for a minute or two, if convenient. The days were grown short, and the candles lit, and Mr. Jellicorse was fast asleep, having had a good deal to get through that day, including an excellent supper. The lawyer’s wife said: “Let him call in the morning. Business is over, and the office is closed. Susanna, your master must not be disturbed.” But the master awoke, and declared that he would see him.

Candles were set in the study, while Jordas was having a trifle of refreshment; and when he came in, Mr. Jellicorse was there, with his spectacles on, and full of business.

“Asking of your pardon. Sir, for disturbing of you now,” said the dogman, with the rain upon his tarred coat shining, in a little course of drainage from his great brown beard, “my orders wur to lay this in your own hand, and seek answer tomorrow by dinner-time, if may be.”

“Master Jordas, you shall have it, if it can be. Do you know anybody who can promise more than that?”

“Plenty, Sir, to promise it, as you must know by this time; but never a body to perform so much as half. But craving of your pardon again, and separate, I wud foin spake a word or two of myself.”

“Certainly, Jordas, I shall listen with great pleasure. A fine-looking fellow like you must have affairs. And the lady ought to make some settlement. It shall all be done for you at half price.”

“No, Sir, it is none o’ that kind of thing,” the dogman answered, with a smile, as if he might have had such opportunities, but would trouble no lawyer about them; “and I get too much of half price at home. It is about my ladies I desire to make speech. They keep their business too tight, master.”

“Jordas, you have been well taught and trained; and you are a man of sagacity. Tell me faithfully what you mean. It shall go no further. And it may be of great service to your ladies.”

“It is not much, Master Jellicoose; and you may make less than that of it. But a lie shud be met and knocked doon, Sir, according to my opinion.”

“Certainly, Jordas, when an action will not lie; and sometimes even where it does, it is wise to commit a defensible assault, and so to become the defendant. Jordas, you are big enough to do that.”

“Master Jellicoose, you are a pleasant man; but you twist my maning, as a lawyer must. They all does it, to keep their hand in. I am speaking of the stories, Sir, that is so much about. And I think that my ladies should be told of them right out, and come forward, and lay their hands on them. The Yordases always did wrong, of old time; but they never was afraid to jump on it.”

“My friend, you speak in parables. What stories have arisen to be jumped upon?”

“Well, Sir, for one thing, they do tell that the proper owner of the property is Sir Duncan, now away in India. A man hath come home who knows him well, and sayeth that he is like a prince out there, with command of a country twice as big as Great Britain, and they up and made ‘Sir Duncan’ of him, by his duty to the king. And if he cometh home, all must fall before him.”

“Even the law of the land, I suppose, and the will of his own father. Pretty well, so far, Jordas. And what next?”

“Nought, Sir, nought. But I thought I wur duty-bound to tell you that. What is women before a man Yordas?”

“My good friend, we will not despair. But you are keeping back something; I know it by your feet. You are duty-bound to tell me every word now, Jordas.”

“The lawyers is the devil,” said the dogman to himself; and being quite used to this reflection, Mr. Jellicorse smiled and nodded; “but if you must have it all, Sir, it is no more than this. Jack o’ the Smithies, as is to marry Sally o’ Will o’ the Wallhead, is to have the lease of Shipboro’ farm, and he is the man as hath told it all.”

“Very well. We will wish him good luck with his farm,” Mr. Jellicorse answered, cheerfully; “and what is even rarer nowadays, I fear, good luck of his wife, Master Jordas.”

But as soon as the sturdy retainer was gone, and the sound of his heavy boots had died away, Mr. Jellicorse shook his head very gravely, and said, as he opened and looked through his packet, which confirmed the words of Jordas, “Sad indiscretion — want of legal knowledge — headstrong women — the very way to spoil it all! My troubles are beginning, and I had better go to bed.”

His good wife seconded this wise resolve; and without further parley it was put into effect, and proclaimed to be successful by a symphony of snores. For this is the excellence of having other people’s cares to carry (with the carriage well paid), that they sit very lightly on the springs of sleep. That well-balanced vehicle rolls on smoothly, without jerk, or jar, or kick, so long as it travels over alien land.

In the morning Mr. Jellicorse was up to anything, legitimate, legal, and likely to be paid for. Not that he would stir half the breadth of one wheat corn, even for the sake of his daily bread, from the straight and strict line of integrity. He had made up his mind about that long ago, not only from natural virtue, strong and dominant as that was, but also by dwelling on his high repute, and the solid foundations of character. He scarcely knew anybody, when he came to think of it, capable of taking such a lofty course; but that simply confirmed him in his stern resolve to do what was right and expedient.

It was quite one o’clock before Jack o’ the Smithies rang the bell to see about his lease. He ought to have done it two hours sooner, if he meant to become a humble tenant; and the lawyer, although he had plenty to do of other people’s business, looked upon this as a very bad sign. Then he read his letter of instructions once more, and could not but admire the nice brevity of these, and the skillful style of hinting much and declaring very little.

For after giving full particulars about the farm, and the rent, and the covenants required, Mistress Yordas proceeded thus:

“The new tenant is the son of a former occupant, who proved to be a remarkably honest man, in a case of strong temptation. As happens too often with men of probity, he was misled and made bankrupt, and died about twelve years ago, I think. Please to verify this by reference. The late tenant was his nephew, and has never perceived the necessity of paying rent. We have been obliged to distrain, as you know; and I wish John Smithies to buy in what he pleases. He has saved some capital in India, where I am told that he fought most gallantly. Singular to say, he has met with, and perhaps served under, our lamented and lost brother Duncan, of whom and his family he may give us interesting particulars. You know how this neighborhood excels in idle talk, and if John Smithies becomes our tenant, his discourse must be confined to his own business. But he must not hesitate to impart to you any facts you may think it right to ask about. Jordas will bring us your answer, under seal.”

“Skillfully put, up to that last word, which savors too much of teaching me my own business. Aberthaw, are you quite ready with that lease? It is wanted rather in a hurry.”

As Mr. Jellicorse thought the former, and uttered the latter part of these words, it was plain to see that he was fidgety. He had put on superior clothes to get up with; and the clerks had whispered to one another that it must be his wedding day, and ought to end in a half-holiday all round, and be chalked thenceforth on the calendar; but instead of being joyful and jocular, like a man who feels a saving Providence over him, the lawyer was as dismal, and unsettled and splenetic, as a prophet on the brink of wedlock. But the very last thing that he ever dreamed of doubting was his power to turn this old soldier inside out.

Jack o’ the Smithies was announced at last; and the lawyer, being vexed with him for taking such a time, resolved to let him take a little longer, and kept him waiting, without any bread and cheese, for nearly half an hour. The wisdom of doing this depended on the character of the man, and the state of his finances. And both of these being strong enough to stand, to keep him so long on his legs was unwise. At last he came in, a very sturdy sort of fellow, thinking no atom the less of himself because some of his anatomy was honorably gone.

“Servant, Sir,” he said, making a salute; “I had orders to come to you about a little lease.”

“Right, my man, I remember now. You are thinking of taking to your father’s farm, after knocking about for some years in foreign parts. Ah, nothing like old England after all. And to tread the ancestral soil, and cherish the old associations, and to nurture a virtuous family in the fear of the Lord, and to be ready with the rent —”

“Rent is too high, Sir; I must have five pounds off. It ought to be ten, by right. Cousin Joe has taken all out, and put nought in.”

“John o’ the Smithies, you astonish me. I have strong reason for believing that the rent is far too low. I have no instructions to reduce it.”

“Then I must try for another farm, Sir. I can have one of better land, under Sir Walter; only I seemed to hold on to the old place; and my Sally likes to be under the old ladies.”

“Old ladies! Jack, what are you come to? Beautiful ladies in the prime of life — but perhaps they would be old in India. I fear that you have not learned much behavior. But at any rate you ought to know your own mind. Is it your intention to refuse so kind an offer (which was only made for your father’s sake, and to please your faithful Sally) simply because another of your family has not been honest in his farming?”

“I never have took it in that way before,” the steady old soldier answered, showing that rare phenomenon, the dawn of a new opinion upon a stubborn face. “Give me a bit to turn it over in my mind, Sir. Lawyers be so quick, and so nimble, and all-cornered.”

“Turn it over fifty times, Master Smithies. We have no wish to force the farm upon you. Take a pinch of snuff, to help your sense of justice. Or if you would like a pipe, go and have it in my kitchen. And if you are hungry, cook will give you eggs and bacon.”

“No, Sir; I am very much obliged to you. I never make much o’ my thinking. I go by what the Lord sends right inside o’ me, whenever I have decent folk to deal with. And spite of your cloth, Sir, you have a honest look.”

“You deserve another pinch of snuff for that. Master Smithies, you have a gift of putting hard things softly. But this is not business. Is your mind made up?”

“Yes, Sir. I will take the farm, at full rent, if the covenants are to my liking. They must be on both sides — both sides, mind you.”

Mr. Jellicorse smiled as he began to read the draft prepared from a very ancient form which was firmly established on the Scargate Hall estates. The covenants, as usual, were all upon one side, the lessee being bound to a multitude of things, and the lessor to little more than acceptance of the rent. But such a result is in the nature of the case. Yet Jack o’ the Smithies was not well content. In him true Yorkshire stubbornness was multiplied by the dogged tenacity of a British soldier, and the aggregate raised to an unknown power by the efforts of shrewd ignorance; and at last the lawyer took occasion to say,

“Master John Smithies, you are worthy to serve under the colors of a Yordas.”

“That I have, Sir, that I have,” cried the veteran, taken unawares, and shaking the stump of his arm in proof; “I have served under Sir Duncan Yordas, who will come home some day and claim his own; and he won’t want no covenants of me.”

“You can not have served under Duncan Yordas,” Mr. Jellicorse answered, with a smile of disbelief, craftily rousing the pugnacity of the man; “because he was not even in the army of the Company, or any other army. I mean, of course, unless there was some other Duncan Yordas.”

“Tell me!” Jack o’ Smithies almost shouted —“tell me about Duncan Yordas, indeed! Who he was, and what he wasn’t! And what do lawyers know of such things? Why, you might have to command a regiment, and read covenants to them out there! Sir Duncan was not our colonel, nor our captain; but we was under his orders all the more; and well he knew how to give them. Not one in fifty of us was white; but he made us all as good as white men; and the enemy never saw the color of our backs. I wish I was out there again, I do, and would have staid, but for being hoarse of combat; though the fault was never in my throat, but in my arm.”

“There is no fault in your throat, John Smithies, except that it is a great deal too loud. I am sorry for Sally, with a temper such as yours.”

“That shows how much you know about it. I never lose my temper, without I hearken lies. And for you to go and say that I never saw Sir Duncan —”

“I said nothing of the kind, my friend. But you did not come here to talk about Duncan, or Captain, or Colonel, or Nabob, or Rajah, or whatever potentate he may be — of him we desire to know nothing more — a man who ran away, and disgraced his family, and killed his poor father, knows better than ever to set his foot on Scargate land again. You talk about having a lease from him, a man with fifty wives, I dare say, and a hundred children! We all know what they are out there.”

There are very few tricks of the human face divine more forcibly expressive of contempt than the lowering of the eyelids so that only a narrow streak of eye is exposed to the fellow-mortal, and that streak fixed upon him steadfastly; and the contumely is intensified when (as in the present instance) the man who does it is gifted with yellow lashes on the under lid. Jack o’ the Smithies treated Mr. Jellicorse to a gaze of this sort; and the lawyer, whose wrath had been feigned, to rouse the other’s, and so extract full information, began to feel his own temper rise. And if Jack had known when to hold his tongue, he must have had the best of it. But the lawyer knew this, and the soldier did not.

“Master Jellicorse,” said the latter, with his forehead deeply wrinkled, and his eyes now opened to their widest, “in saying of that you make a liar of yourself. Lease or no lease — that you do. Leasing stands for lying in the Bible, and a’ seemeth to do the same thing in Yorkshire. Fifty wives, and a hundred children! Sir Duncan hath had one wife, and lost her, through the Neljan fever and her worry; and a Yorkshire lady, as you might know — and never hath he cared to look at any woman since. There now, what you make of that — you lawyers that make out every man a rake, and every woman a light o’ love? Get along! I hate the lot o’ you.”

“What a strange character you are! You must have had jungle fever, I should think. No, Diana, there is no danger”— for Jack o’ the Smithies had made such a noise that Mrs. Jellicorse got frightened and ran in: “this poor man has only one arm; and if he had two, he could not hurt me, even if he wished it. Be pleased to withdraw, Diana. John Smithies, you have simply made a fool of yourself. I have not said a word against Sir Duncan Yordas, or his wife, or his son —”

“He hath no son, I tell you; and that was partly how he lost his wife.”

“Well, then, his daughters, I have said no harm of them.”

“And very good reason — because he hath none. You lawyers think you are so clever; and you never know anything rightly. Sir Duncan hath himself alone to see to, and hundreds of thousands of darkies to manage, with a score of British bayonets. But he never heedeth of the bayonets, not he.”

“I have read of such men, but I never saw them,” Mr. Jellicorse said, as if thinking to himself; “I always feel doubt about the possibility of them.”

“He hath ten elephants,” continued Soldier Smithies, resolved to crown the pillar of his wonders while about it —“ten great elephants that come and kneel before him, and a thousand men ready to run to his thumb; and his word is law — better law than is in England — for scores and scores of miles on the top of hundreds.”

“Why did you come away, John Smithies? Why did you leave such a great prince, and come home?”

“Because it was home, Sir. And for sake of Sally.”

“There is some sense in that, my friend. And now if you wish to make a happy life for Sally, you will do as I advise you. Will you take my advice? My time is of value; and I am not accustomed to waste my words.”

“Well, Sir, I will hearken to you. No man that meaneth it can say more than that.”

“Jack o’ the Smithies, you are acute. You have not been all over the world for nothing. But if you have made up your mind to settle, and be happy in your native parts, one thing must be attended to. It is a maxim of law, time-honored and of the highest authority, that the tenant must never call in question the title of his landlord. Before attorning, you may do so; after that you are estopped. Now is it or is it not your wish to become the tenant of the Smithies farm, which your father held so honorably? Farm produce is fetching great prices now; and if you refuse this offer, we can have a man, the day after tomorrow, who will give my ladies 10 pounds more, and who has not been a soldier, but a farmer all his life.”

“Lawyer Jellicorse, I will take it; for Sally hath set her heart on it; and I know every crumple of the ground better than the wisest farmer doth. Sir, I will sign the articles.”

“The lease will be engrossed by next market day; and the sale will be stopped until you have taken whatever you wish at a valuation. But remember what I said — you are not to go prating about this wonderful Sir Duncan, who is never likely to come home, if he lives in such grand state out there, and who is forbidden by his father’s will from taking an acre of the property. And as he has no heirs, and is so wealthy, it can not matter much to him.”

“That is true,” said the soldier; “but he might love to come home, as all our folk in India do; and if he doth, I will not deny him. I tell you fairly, Master Jellicorse.”

“I like you for being an outspoken man, and true to those who have used you well. You could do him no good, and you might do harm to others, and unsettle simple minds, by going on about him among the tenants.”

“His name hath never crossed my lips till now, and shall not again without good cause. Here is my hand upon it, Master Lawyer.”

The lawyer shook hands with him heartily, for he could not but respect the man for his sturdiness and sincerity. And when Jack was gone, Mr. Jellicorse played with his spectacles and his snuff-box for several minutes before he could make up his mind how to deal with the matter. Then hearing the solid knock of Jordas, who was bound to take horse for Scargate House pretty early at this time of year (with the weakening of the day among the mountains), he lost a few moments in confusion. The dogman could not go without any answer; and how was any good answer to be given in half an hour, at the utmost? A time had been when the lawyer studied curtness and precision under minds of abridgment in London. But the more he had labored to introduce rash brevity into Yorkshire, and to cut away nine words out of ten, when all the ten meant one thing only, the more of contempt for his ignorance he won, and the less money he made out of it. And no sooner did he marry than he was forced to give up that, and, like a respectable butcher, put in every pennyweight of fat that could be charged for. Thus had he thriven and grown like a goodly deed of fine amplification; and if he had made Squire Philip’s will now, it would scarcely have gone into any breast pocket. Unluckily it is an easier thing to make a man’s will than to carry it out, even though fortune be favorable.

In the present case obstacles seemed to be arising which might at any moment require great skill and tact to surmount them; and the lawyer, hearing Jordas striding to and fro impatiently in the waiting-room, was fain to win time for consideration by writing a short note to say that he proposed to wait upon the ladies the very next day. For he had important news which seemed expedient to discuss with them. In the mean time he begged them not to be at all uneasy, for his news upon the whole was propitious.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50